A 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United with each side coming on top in one half is not the worst of results. However, the manner in which we lost the game, left a bitter taste in the mouth. After what happened in the reverse fixture early in August, many Arsenal fans (including me) wanted to exact revenge but also conscious of the fact that we want to avoid another thrashing. Yet, we could’ve just easily won this game.
Arsene Wenger was bold with his selection. Thomas Vermaelen was thrown in straight from the start and looks a little short in fitness as can be seen from him tiring towards the end of the game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also got a start ahead of Andrey Arshavin and that is probably a big wake up call thrust in the direction of the Russian. A sign which Arshavin didn’t take too kindly to and we’ll come to that later.
It was a poor a first half from Arsenal that we’ve seen this season. It wasn’t about United being better than us but more of the case that we were shittier than them. Just like at the Liberty Stadium, we were losing the fight in midfield. Alex Song tried to be authoritative and it worked on occasions but that tactics went to bits each time his attacking senses take over. Tomas Rosicky was the best of the trio while Aaron Ramsey tried hard.
Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, two players you don’t normally associate as players who could win the midfield battle, were outfoxing our trio despite the numerical disadvantage. Every opportunity that they had, they tried to feed the flanks. Nani or Antonio Valencia were sticking wide and slipping away from their markers each time one of their midfielders had the ball. Sometimes, even Wayne Rooney dropped off and supplied those angled passes wide.
Johan Djourou was being tormented by Nani the entire first half. The big Swiss had a poor game, failing to keep track of the United winger. Pace was an attribute giving advantage to Nani but still Djourou afforded him all the time and space in the world. He should have stick close to Nani but didn’t and it was no surprise that when United took the lead late in stoppage time of the first half, it came from our right. This time, Giggs double up on Djourou and delivered a sumptuous cross. Vermaelen wasn’t aware of the presence of Valencia and the United man headed past Wojciech Szczesny. Poor defending all around.
Having identified Djourou as the weak link, Wenger took a further risk by putting on Nico Yennaris for him. The youngster did well and we suppressed the threat down the right side. The second half was also an indication of the tactic and bravery of Wenger’s selection in dropping Arshavin. AOC, who was peripheral in the first half, failing to be on the same wavelength as his team mates and moving in-field when not required to, step up a notch or two in the second half.
No longer interchanging positions with Theo Walcott, AOC stayed generally wide and pushed on. Every time he received the ball, he was dangerous. He was strong on the ball and the markers were unable to nick the ball of him. It was no coincidence that when we equalised, AOC was the creator. Cutting inside from wide, his pass released Robin Van Persie and with a swing of the left foot, the captain scored.
We were buzzing. A disjointed first half was replaced by a more purposeful second half and it was a great equaliser to match. Yet, just 3 minutes later, the atmosphere and impetus was lost. AOC was replaced by Arshavin and the manager will have to take the blame for this one. Yes, AOC could be tired having not played 90 minutes of Premier League football before and perhaps he might not have defended better than Arshavin for that goal but that is such a ridiculous argument.
The initiative was on our side. United were on the back foot, the ground was vocal and supportive after the equaliser. Everything killed by a substitution. It gave United every bit of confidence seeing their tormentor going off the field and replace by someone who looked like he could hardly give a toss what happened. Fact of the matter is, Ferguson saw the substitution of AOC and then took off his right back for an attacking midfielder. Even their manager was dismissive of whatever effect Arshavin could have on the game. RvP too, seemed displeased about it.
It was bad defending again which cost us. Arshavin is no defender but every bit of justifiable to expect him to do better in that situation. The calamitous defending inside the box, failing to clear the ball and a lucky bounce went back to Valencia who had already tie ribbons around Arshavin. The ball laid off to Danny Welbeck, free of pressure to slot home. Per Merstesacker for the second time of the night, lost bearing on Welbeck’s position.
We had chances to either equalise earlier than the RvP strike or to take the lead in the game or to equalise for the second time that night but none was forthcoming. No better chance than the one which RvP fluffed having seen Rosicky nick the ball of Chris Smalling who slipped. The shot went wide when RvP had the goal at his mercy. We even saw the introduction of Park Ju Young onto the Premier League stage but it was too big an ask for the Korean to drag us back into the game.
Plenty was dreading the potential outcome of the match before but were rightly angry at the inept performance that was dished out by Arsenal. This was United for the taking and we missed our chance. Missing the chance to beat United was one thing but this was another lost opportunity to claw back some points on those we have in front of us for the Champions League spots. Again, we were unable to take advantage of our rivals dropping points.
Laurent Koscielny, AOC and possibly Rosicky could look back at this game with much pride over the work that they put in but the rest will have to take a long hard look at themselves and seriously think of their next move. If they wish to continue playing for the red and white, such performance is not acceptable.
Closer margin but pride hardly restored.